NYC protests reignite calls to repeal 50-a law protecting police records

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America Protests New York

Activists carry protest signs during a march in the Prospect Heights section of the Brooklyn borough of New York on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

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NEW YORK — New York protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have reignited a discussion about repealing a state law that protects police personnel records from being released publicly.

Civil Rights Law 50-a broadly prevents the release of “all personnel records” that are used to evaluate performance of police officers, firefighters and correction officers without a court order, unless the subject gives written permission.

How city and state leaders interpret the law varies.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has for years held that 50-a protects police disciplinary records and the outcomes of departmental trials.

The NYPD and city police unions support this interpretation of 50-a.

However, activists against police brutality and excessive force have argued that not releasing such information hinders the public’s ability to identify whether a police officer accused of wrongdoing has a history of inappropriate behavior.

On Monday, a group of 85 organizations signed a letter addressed to the leaders of the state assembly and senate urging them to reconvene the Legislature and pass a proposed bill that would repeal 50-a.

“The continued police secrecy in New York enables police violence and allows abusive officers to continue to act with impunity. We should be able to look up the misconduct and disciplinary records of every officer who mass-pepper sprayed, assaulted, blatantly covered their badge numbers and engaged in other abuse of authority and violence against New Yorkers,” the groups wrote in the letter, referencing clashes between police and protesters over the weekend. “Instead, we are left in the dark and abusive police officers are given special rights and shielded because of 50-a.”

While speaking over the weekend about Floyd’s police custody death, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would sign a bill that reforms the law. The governor reiterated his promise on Tuesday.

“I will sign any 50-a reform bill they (the Legislature) sends me — repeal, reform, whatever they send me I will sign it,” Cuomo said on Tuesday.

However, Cuomo has also noted he doesn’t think the law as it stands actually prevents records from being released but that mayors and other officials hide behind that interpretation of the law.

“I don’t believe 50-a ever stopped localities from releasing these records,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “New York City used to release disciplinary records and 50-a was in place.”

De Blasio, while still keeping with his interpretation of the law, also said this week he supports reforming 50-a in a way that protects a person’s personal information such as their home address.

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